The following is a review of a women’s shaver taken from Amazon, entitled “Smooth as a babies bum” written, perhaps, by a modern day Ruskin:
“I'm writing this on behalf of my wife as she does not have access to a computer....I bought this razor with extra blades for her for Xmas but ended up giving it [to] her before.... She told me she wished she had used this a long time ago despite her fears of cutting herself and having a rash…so she's a happy bunny and so am I not having to have a hedgehog in bed next to me..:)”
Now, I’d hate to succumb to my twisted sense of humour and imagine a wife, chained to a radiator with no access to a computer, with the only gift for “Xmas” a cheaply branded, pink disposable razor – but at least she no longer resembles a hedge hog, right?
I am a “hedge hog”, aka, a hairy woman. I am also a Feminist. But (apparently surprisingly) that is where the stereotype ends. I run an online vintage fashion business and arts collective, I’m a freelance photographer, illustrator and artist. I am in a healthy, loving relationship with my (male) partner, and I occasionally wear a pretty dress – leg hair and all.
Recently, I chose two of my close friends to model for me in a series of photographs, “Forbidden Fruit”, taken at the same time of writing. I spoke to both of them in depth before shooting, and each had very different attitudes bound by one belief: that female body hair is totally fucking normal.
Lou’s take on body hair, like her other political and social stances, is to create change by action. Along side her political documentaries, pop-up art exhibitions and organised protests, she plans on creating a pube-friendly swim-wear line, claiming:
“The bikini line is a battle line. It restricts how much pubic hair you are allowed to have. Anything crossing the line is indecent, unacceptable or radical… Why not have the option to renegotiate that border should you feel less inclined to depilate? I'm an advocate of bigger bikinis, baggier bikinis, long bikinis or tiny bikinis with pubic hair spilling out, refusing to acknowledge the nebulous zone that we call the 'Bikini Line - £15’…”
I was pretty bemused, after reading Caitlin Moran’s “How to Be a Woman” in which she uses the “HA!” approach to sexism, that both Moran and Lou recounted their friends military routine in which they plan their dates around, on the off-chance their “foof” might be seen. More alarmingly was Lou’s story echoing Moran’s of the frequency of women “capitalising” on a fresh wax by sleeping with someone they’re barely interested in: why go through all that pain and cost for nothing?
Alice (the brunette model)’s approach is a milder one. She is scarcely swayed by peer pressure, or, at least, hasn’t been since the first pubic shave that felt “like some kind of soft-core self mutilation process”. No, Alice, like myself, has been fortunate enough to share her close, significant relationships with those that barely consider our body hair as an “abnormality”. Besides, my partner is well aware that if he did find cause to complain he’d have to take to the daily shaving routine, too. If I have to trudge through the bullshit, I’m taking him with me.
I adore Alice’s fluffy pits, of which she admits:
“although I never felt comfortable taking the blade to my feathery underarms, the street, the park and the school changing rooms (along with their respective occupants) were just not as forgiving an environment as the horny man’s bed when it came to silently asserting one’s right to be hairy.
Then I met Mae. She rocked a septum piercing back when hot girls didn’t and under each of her slender golden arms was an inky black firework of hair. That was all I needed to never go back. Do I have smellier, dirtier armpits as a result of not shaving them? No, the hair acts like a wick and carries the sweat away from your skin, meaning it doesn’t sit there building up bacteria, actually.”
I make a conscious decision to use women with at least some degree of natural body hair in each of my nude shoots. I, personally, see it as aesthetically quite beautiful; it has a degree of delicacy and honesty to it that adds to the shoot rather than detracts from it; such as a freshly waxed “designer vagina”, encouraging a level of undesired pornographic sexuality that is usually inappropriate. Besides, I think hairy women are incredibly sexy - that level of self-confidence should be a quality that’s celebrated in women, not condemned.
The blatancy of horror (or confusion due to my appearance not cohering to typical “hard-core feminist/lesbian/French” negative stereotypes) when my un-shaven armpits are exposed (female body hair is only ever “exposed”, never merely “shown”) on the tube, is obvious. I am asking, simply, why? It seems we cannot merely state our choice of body hair, but must argue for it’s existence, or at least conform to social stereotypes that even feminist writers cower away from.
How many hours do you spend removing body hair per week? And how many work hours amount to paying for the products in which you remove it with? Hair removal is a multi-billion dollar industry ($2.1 Billion in the US in 2011), not to mention the extra addition of 5% “luxury tax” that women’s razors inherit, like tampons, when men’s razors go tax-free.
In a young Western society that is proud of having broken most established taboos, (many of which are based around sexuality and the body), women’s body hair remains an area of deliberate avoidance. Any mention of body hair in advertising is based around its removal (of which no hair is featured on the models to begin with) or reference to sexual fetish. All consideration of women’s body hair, in short, is regarded only as medical and cosmetic interest, with the two being extensions of each other, as both carry the aim of removing it.
I also find the relentless topic of women’s weight and dieting confusing: why should we not allow our body weight to be dictated to us, argue against it, buy texts on how to control it, yet totally accept the challenge of being constantly, unnaturally hairless, rarely ever raising it as a topic for debate?
Women’s femininity is forever measured by their “lack” of masculine attributes. Our “lack” of dominance, a “lack” of humour, a “lack” of physical mass and a “lack” of body hair. Men’s bodies, in contrast, “exist” as male, unlike women, who must “achieve” femininity. As Moran quotes Simone De Beauvoir in ‘How To Be A Woman’: “One is not born, but rather becomes, a woman.”
We need a rearticulation in the way we approach female body hair. An ex-partner of mine once came home from work in shock after having to teach an all-male biology class that women did, in fact, grow pubic, armpit and leg hair. Pornography (the obvious culprit to a vast majority of the ‘hairy taboo’) had apparently clarified the belief that all women are (naturally!) totally hairless. These were boys on the cusp of puberty and sexual encounters, as would be the girls they shared those encounters with. One wonders what effect this misinformation will have on the girls at the forefront of conforming to those pressures, and thus the vicious cycle begins… A cycle of mental and physical routine shrouded in anxiety and substantial pain, and, alarmingly, an increased risk of STI’s and other infections, contrary to the belief that being bald is “more hygienic” as mentioned by Alice earlier.
I want to be clear that the themes of my photography and arguments are not based on a plea to return to the “natural body” (or the idea that this is even a possibility) but that the notion of our bodies being “created” by strict taboos is plainly wrong. Although a truism of most anthropological and critical discourse that the body is always refashioned by the culture which it enters, our evolution has led us to the ultimate divinity: choice. It is my wish, therefore, for there to be absolute freedom of choice with the removal or growth of body hair, un-dictated by secondary opinion, the media and social pressures. For there to be as much choice in bodily fluff as with hairstyle; a total acceptance of that person’s appearance (you may even quite like the retro look, it is getting chillier, after all.) We should be spending our time on far greater issues, not fuelling a war on hair growth that’ll always win by growing back. And, at least if you do truly decide you’d rather depilate, don’t let the husband write the product review for you (unless he’s using it, too.)
See the full feature, including an interview with Dazed and Confused Magazine, here.